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Placing In-between: Thinking through Architecture in the Construction of Colonial-Modern Identities

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This article addresses the topical notions of hybridity and ‘in-between-ness' as salient points of intersection between critical architectural inquiry and postcolonial studies. Focusing on domestic architecture in colonial-modern India, it examines the problematical role of the built environment in the construction and re-production of identities in nation-building processes. In the light of the equally problematical engagement of architectural form and symbolism in the increasingly reductive and reactionary identity politics of postcolonial India, the article discerns an alternative function that architecture may perform as an ‘in-between' space enabling cultural intersection and innovation. Through a comparative interpretation of architectural references to the conundrums of hybridity in two historically and stylistically distinct novels about the awakening of colonial-modern India into postcolonial consciousness—John Masters' Bhowani Junction (1954), and Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh (1996)—literary fiction is engaged as an apposite representation of the ‘place' of the built environment in the emerging conceptual and cultural landscapes of a new nation. Buildings are not merely ‘backdrops' to the historical dramas enacted within and between them, the author argues, but cognitive constructions in which identities (national, communal and individual) can be negotiated creatively across cultural boundaries. In addition to aesthetic form and operative function, Architecture, like Literature, also has an ethical function as a heuristic framework for thinking.

Keywords: Cognition; Hybridity; India; Mixed Race; Railway Colonies; Social Mapping: Metaphor

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2006

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